101 Weird Writers #38 — Leonora Carrington

“Seeing Rabbits and Falling Fingers”

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This post is part of an ongoing series on 101 weird writers featured in The Weird compendium, the anthology that serves as the inspiration for this site. There is no ranking system; the order is determined by the schedule of posts.

Leonora Carrington (1912 — 2011) was a British-born Mexican surrealist painter. In addition to being an artist, she also wrote several novels and short stories. Her work was influenced by Max Ernst, who she met in 1937 and began living with in Paris. Ernst was arrested soon after the Nazi occupation of France as his art was deemed “degenerate”. Carrington fled to Spain and then later to New York. In 1941, while in New York City she published “White Rabbits” which was later included in The Weird.

After being granted asylum in Mexico, she resumed her work as a surrealist painter and writer. In 1963, she created a mural called El Mundo Magico de los Mayas, which, like much of her art, was influenced by local folk stories. It resides today at the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City. Carrington passed away in 2011 in Mexico City at the age of 94.

David Davis

eye

That’s my principal message to writers: for God’s sake, keep your eyes open.
William S. Burroughs, 1965

Metaphysics – I – The Surreal Image

Leonor Fini, La Gardienne des Sources (1967). Oil on canvas. Fig. 1.

Leonor Fini, La Gardienne des Sources (1967). Oil on canvas. Fig. 1.

What would you do if your eye was cut open? And what if your organ of sight, split in two, could still see – what if the first thing you saw was your eye’s distressing division? In surrealist art and literature, as in weird fiction more generally, the eye is a privileged site of conflict. The narrator of Leonora Carrington’s “White Rabbits” tells us that she can see anything in the gloom of Pest Street, the neighbourhood in which she lives. As she explains, “my eyes have always been excellent.”[1] But the sights she sees are bewildering: tiny white teeth tearing apart rotting flesh; the human body, cloistered away and subject to leprosy; and then, in the story’s last, beautiful image, an apparition of a woman waving her hand over a gloomy balcony: “and as she waved it, her fingers fell off and dropped to the ground like shooting stars.”[2] This is an important and transformative image. To recognize it as such, we will need to examine a brief history of ideas of severance and sight, and especially of how a perceived fissure or disconnection with the world one sees can prompt a reinvigorated sense of agency. Severance and sight are our guides to “White Rabbits” and to Carrington’s surrealist artist and metaphysical thinking.

fig-2

Leonor Fini, Self Portrait (1968). Oil on canvas. Fig. 2.

Artistic representations of sight in traditions associated with surrealism are often startling. Just look at the work of Leonor Fini (1907−1996), the Argentine-born Italian feminist whose adolescent years were spent with her eyes wounded and bandaged, and whose friendship with Leonora Carrington and Max Ernst in the late 1930s was influential and important to all three artists. Spending her teenage years severed from the possibility of sight prepared Fini for an aesthetic that channels vision through blindness, which is to say that her art declares its interest in the insights of closed eyes and the declarative statements made by open sight, all of which are refracted through an erotic charge and a compelling palette of colours.

Following this interest, look at the eyes in Fini’s self-portrait, La Gardienne des Sources (1967) [Fig. 1]. These eyes meet those of the viewer in a direct line of sight. Despite their position at the side of the painting, they are bold black spaces in the painting’s otherwise rampaging colour. Equally startling are the eyes in Fini’s very similar Self-Portrait (1968) [Fig. 2].

Leonor Fini, L’Entre Deux (1967). Oil on canvas. Fig. 3.

Leonor Fini, L’Entre Deux (1967). Oil on canvas. Fig. 3.

Unlike the painter’s earlier L’Entre Deux (1967) [Fig. 3], a canvas that pays lush homage to the style of Gustav Klimt and, importantly, a painting in which all its subjects’ eyes are closed and relaxed, the boldly open eyes of La Gardienne and Self-Portrait make for startling viewing: proclaiming themselves, open eyes direct the attention; closed eyes, meanwhile, invite speculation about what imaginative proceedings are happening behind shut eyelids. Open eyes are risks represented in a mirrored ocular faculty and investments in the trade of direct vision for blindness and insight: so often twin stars in the same system.

Photographer unknown, “Les deux Leonor “surréalisent” (1952). Black and white photograph. Fig. 4.

Photographer unknown, “Les deux Leonor “surréalisent” (1952). Black and white photograph. Fig. 4.

Leonor Fini and Leonora Carrington were friends in the period directly before the Second World War. At that time, Carrington was living in Europe and Surrealist art was at its cultural ascendancy, but even then life was not easy. In a famous photograph of Fini and Carrington from 1952 [Fig. 4], the two stare directly at the camera. It is a dare: armoured resistance against easy interpretations and assumptions. Not for nothing did Fini paint representations of herself with armour, as in The Ceremony (1939), and of Carrington with knight’s garb in The Alcove: An Interior with Three Women (1939). Herself wary of labels, Fini was never comfortable with the mostly male Surrealist movement and preferred instead to call Carrington a revolutionary. Neither she nor Carrington quite saw eye to eye with Surrealists of their time. Some protection was necessary.

René Magritte, “Je ne vois pas la [femme] cachée dans la forêt” in La Révolution surréaliste (1929). Photomontage. Fig. 5.

René Magritte, “Je ne vois pas la [femme] cachée dans la forêt” in La Révolution surréaliste (1929). Photomontage. Fig. 5.

Many representations of women by men in Surrealist art made the female body exotic and subject to masculine desire (thus, again, Fini’s attribution of armour to Carrington and herself). Labels such as amour fou and femme enfant were prominent and sacred, but these roles imply both idealism and objectification and leave little room within the Surrealist movement for women as creators or artists in their own right.[3] This is why the composite illustration of photographs of the Surrealists surrounding René Magritte’s painting published in La Révolution surréaliste (1929) [Fig. 5] implies such a different meaning to the closed eyes of the subjects — dreaming, the men project an object in comfortable companionship; meanwhile, the woman becomes a spectacle in her solitude, and blushingly becomes the object of common regard. The many find comfort enough to dream; the singular becomes tense.[4] All eyes are closed: everyone is dreaming. If we are startled by the spectacle, we must disturb the dreamers and pierce their dream. The quickest way to brush away a dream’s cobwebs is to open one’s eyes.

That said, Carrington’s acceptance within Surrealist circles was a result of genuine hospitality, and her story, “The Debutante”, stands as one of two contributions by women to André Breton’s influential and immediately-banned Anthology of Black Humour (1940), a book dedicated to exploring what Breton conceived of as one of Surrealism’s central tenets. For Carrington and Fini, however, art also served as a defense and a challenge to the growing violence of Second World War-era Europe. Art extended the possibility to see things clearly amid fragmenting visions of society and situations that were directly, materially hostile.[5] Possibilities for sight were vexed (and vexing) when split or closed.

Still from Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s Un Chien Andalou (1929). Film. Fig. 6.

Still from Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s Un Chien Andalou (1929). Film. Fig. 6.

Be alert to art that places itself along the path of eyesight. The surrealist tradition of the cut-up eye and severed line of sight inevitably returns with an almost gravitational pull to a foundational image, specifically, an important superimposition of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s film Un Chien Andalou (1929) [Fig. 6].[6] This film began to cut open its viewer’s minds with an image that slices through conventional and settled views on the real and that proceeds from an almost-ironic title card familiar to any fable (or act of fabulation): “Il était une fois / Once upon a time.” In the film, a calf’s tears of vitreous humour fall to anxious unease, while Simone Mareuil’s face – her left eye held open with soft but firm force traceable through the lines of her skin – lingers in the mind. What does the surrealist image ask us to see? Why is the cut made to a woman’s eye? With the frictional power of a natural pair violently divided, the two eyes of Un Chien Andalou express very different possibilities. With cynical power, one keeps itself slitted; the other, subject to medical power, discomfortingly opens beyond its control. Mareuil’s subjectivity splits before the brandished razor. Did you flinch?

fig-7

Leonora Carrington, “Portrait of Dr Morales” (c. 1943). Drawing on paper. Fig. 7.

Let me rephrase the question in order to refocus our attention on Carrington’s work. A young English woman of Irish descent, she lived with German Surrealist Max Ernst in Saint Martin d’Ardeche, France for some time in the late 1930s. After Ernst was interned at Largentière, then in Loriol and in the Camp des Milles during World War II, Carrington fled. Her estranged, mistrustful family had her committed to a Spanish mental asylum in Santander, where she was treated with Cardiazol, described today as “a violent thunderstorm” of a drug for its intense similarity to electroshock therapy. Cardiazol split her vision, for sure, and as such it was the realized nightmare for Carrington, whose antipathy to normal class, gender, and social roles was deeply entrenched.[7] Years later, Dr Luis Morales, the Spanish doctor who treated her at Santander expressed some doubt about the veracity of Carrington’s initial diagnosis by other, more conventional Catholic doctors: more likely that, in 1941 and given the collapse of both personal and public structures, her surrealist philosophies were a sane way to adapt to violence in society, he believed [Fig. 7].[8] For Morales, hindsight proved clearest.

Fortunately, Carrington escaped from asylum and her family’s clutches through clever thinking and an arranged marriage to Picasso’s friend, the Mexican diplomat Renato Leduc. With Leduc she fled to New York where so many other Surrealist artists at the time also lived. It was at this period in her life, adrift on a new continent and torn between her new husband and her old lover Max Ernst, also in New York but in a relationship with Peggy Guggenheim, that Carrington published “White Rabbits,” in an American journal, View (Dec. 1941/ Jan. 1942). The city was not enough, and from New York, she left with Leduc to Mexico. There, eventually, they divorced, although she lived there until repressive governmental violence in 1968 forced her back to America for a time.

Carrington’s life was a series of dislocations, some violent, some chosen. How can a person cope with the violence of a fissure that suddenly makes what you see an untrustworthy guide to the nature of the things around you? What can you do when epistemology and ontology are so greatly opposed? The answer provided by Carrington’s work of images and language is that of a rich play of metaphysics in art: transformations and metamorphic drifts that work to process the happenings of life into explanatory models made from symbols and images. The philosophy of metaphysics addresses itself to “first” concepts such as “being” and “the world.” Yet metaphysics is so slippery that, for some, it is in disrepute entirely, while for others it serves as a preeminent site of thought about life.[9] The abstract certainty of metaphysical pronouncements makes it attractive for artists, writers, and spiritualists, as well as for the Surrealists proper. In the twentieth century, Italians Giorgio De Chirico’s and Carlo Carrà’s “metaphysical art” wagered that nothing less than reality itself must be liberated from the “real.” Metaphysical thought applies itself to very broad circumstances.

Playing with metaphysics can be dangerous and banal in turns, as today’s new age movements illustrate, but it is often necessary in desperate or critical situations. The Surrealists turn to metaphysics in order to reveal a vision of reality liberated from what they saw as the disturbing fictions that distort modern life. For Carrington, the Second World War and ongoing frictions in gender and history, on the one hand, and Surrealist adoptions of old languages of magic and superstition on the other challenged her vision of the world through both microscopic and macroscopic lenses. In consequence, art permitted Carrington space and time for understanding these influences. She defines surrealism as “an approach to a reality that we do not understand yet.”[10] Compare her father’s definition of art. For him, a successful businessman of the time, painting was “horrible and idiotic” and “you didn’t do art; if you did, you were either poor or homosexual, which were more or less the same sort of crime.”[11] Contrary to her father’s beliefs, the things Carrington saw and the world’s changing faces demanded an explanation which, for her, took the form of art: the work of metaphysics. And yet where metaphysics promises to explain, it often succeeds only at making matters inscrutable or, at best, arcane. Apuleius, whose Metamorphoses or The Golden Ass stands as a particularly clear instance of the metaphysical art of understanding the world, offers a warning: “I have told you things of which, although you have heard them you cannot know the meaning,” he says.[12] In the best scenario, metaphysical art distributes the work of understanding among cultural traditions and symbolic systems, and it is along these lines that Carrington’s work has been described as a productive combination of Mexican, Egyptian, Hebrew, Celtic, Greek, and Mesopotamian elements. Her paintings, plays, and stories mix the symbols of alchemy, astrology, Tarot, herbalism, magic, witchcraft, and a personal iconography.[13]

Xul Solar, Jefa (1923). Watercolour on paper, set on cardboard. Fig. 8.

Xul Solar, Jefa (1923). Watercolour on paper, set on cardboard. Fig. 8.

Such bewilderingly syncretic systems held under fluid control resemble the otherworldly aesthetic of Argentine artist Xul Solar (1887−1963), friend to Jorge Luis Borges and devoted esoteric thinker. Jefa (1923) [Fig. 8], for example, shows the play of one of Solar’s invented cosmic languages across a female patroness’ face. In this fantastic fusion of elements designed to make sense of things by focusing on the creative, the esoteric, and the numinal, we find weird fiction and mid-twentieth-century painting hand in hand. Another of Xul Solar’s paintings, The Aleph (1930) [Fig. 9], prompted Borges’ story of the same name published some fifteen years later (Andrew Hurley’s classic translation is collected in The Weird). Whereas Xul Solar went east from Argentina only to return to the Americas, however, Carrington eventually went west from Europe for good. Each artist’s work draws from the surrealism of aesthetic metaphysics in response to severed systems of sight and dislocation. For Solar and Borges, in the pre-war sun, vision was compromised as well, and the draw on metaphysics and “the languages of the Southern Hemisphere of Tlön” make for strange thinking.[14] For each artist, the dizzying play of metaphysical explanations bridges cultural systems of representation and belief.

Xul Solar, The Aleph (1930). Oil, minerals, and metals on canvas. Fig. 9.

Xul Solar, The Aleph (1930). Oil, minerals, and metals on canvas. Fig. 9.

Why is this so? Because metaphysics speculate and express not just ways of seeing the world, the space of epistemology, but more acutely the ways in which people justify existence. And within every appropriation of the real — the “this is how things are done” mentality — is an element of fantasy, a reminder of its ultimately metaphysical lineage in something beyond the visible and the real. Guyanese writer Wilson Harris speculates that even within a text of “so-called realism” exist elements of “curiously subversive fantasy,” so that, as readers, we can “perceive realism and fantasy as a threshold into evolution and alchemy.” “That threshold,” Harris writes, “is a component of the ‘mental bridge’ within and across cultures.”[15] In 1935, Bronislow Malinowski, one of the twentieth century’s ground-breaking anthropologists, considered magical words in the hospitable space of ethnographic theory. He argued that cross-cultural communication operates along a “coefficient of weirdness” opposed to a “coefficient of reality”[16]—optimally, the two will work in tandem. However, as Surrealist and metaphysical art suggests, when distorted and ideological impressions of reality become oppressive and overbearing, a surge of weirdness might answer the impending disaster of a world grown grey, pinched, and purchasable.

We can thus explain the observations of Edward James (1907−1984), the incredibly rich art patron, critic, and writer, who wrote that to him Carrington’s paintings “are not merely painted, they are brewed. They sometimes seem to have materialized in a cauldron at the stroke of midnight, yet for all this they are no mere illustrations of fairy tales.”[17] The Surrealist precedent of the severed eye of Un Chien Andalou is no fable. While the image of “White Rabbits” — severed fingers, seen falling — does resemble the fabulous, or the fantastic, something has changed. Carrington has drawn her audience close: not to the comforts of the fantastic, but to something more, something that might express how vision is bifurcated and unsettled, and must come to terms with strange images. As it is with her paintings, so too her prose. For the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes, Carrington’s artistic works offer “a gay, diabolical and persistent struggle against orthodoxy, which Leonora conquers and disperses with imagination, always multiple and singular, an imagination which she communicates with loving pride.”[18] Ample material to provoke a reader of the weird, whether one looks to images or to words while addressing the unquenchable thirst for the metaphysical justification served by art.

 

Leonora Carrington, The Giantess (The Guardian of the Egg) (1947). Tempura on wood panel. Fig. 10.

Leonora Carrington, The Giantess (The Guardian of the Egg) (1947). Tempura on wood panel. Fig. 10.

Carrington works as a metaphysical engineer whose structures blend human forms with animal shapes, and whose images occupy the ever-transforming threshold of the grand philosophical statement. In her The Giantess (The Guardian of the Egg) (c.1947) [Fig. 10], the most famous of her works, Carrington’s play of evolution and alchemy takes audiences out of their comfort zone and into a place of colours and darkness; her work confronts an audience’s blindnesses with visions hitherto unthinkable. But like the distortions of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), itself a text of vision and visions, the scale is always subject to revision and (with a threat of violence) further justification (can you see the dull blades of the tiny haters trying to cut down the spiritual giant?).[19] This is the prerogative and risk of metaphysics which appear graceful but conceal great violence. Explanations are weird, for they draw neither from sight nor facts but instead operate along another principle to pronounce upon the other two. Never fear them. Never trust them either, for there are jagged jaws, tiny knives, and little teeth in the darkness, waiting for the giant edifice of the human to fall to ground in rapture, astonishment, ignorance, or simply sleep. Something might eat you while you’re wondering at clouds and colours, sheltering what is precious to you all the while. “White Rabbits” indeed. We can now ask: what else runs into the underground with us — chasing Alices to find alluring rabbits in some darkened and lost-looking glass world — only just ahead?

Gently Falling Fingers – II – Never Enough “White Rabbits”

At this point, it should be noted that for the Weird Fiction Review this story is familiar territory. In a tour de force of interpretation, S.J. Chambers describes “White Rabbits” using an admirably visual explanatory model. Therefore, it would not do to dwell on Carrington’s story along the same lines. But another look at the story seems earned for the 101 Weird Writers series. What follows will engage with the story as a peculiar textual affair lodged in the chasm between seeing and its objects of sight. The events discussed occur under the oddly hostile sign of New York, where the narrator is and where Carrington was when writing the story. The city is described as “so hot that I got palpitations when I ventured out into the streets, so I sat and considered the house opposite and occasionally bathed my sweating face.”[20] In this sweltering heat, vision changes and falls subject to mirage.

The time has come that I must tell the events which began in 40 Pest Street,” our story begins. While the narrator’s reason for telling her story is obscure, her voyeurism is clear. She sees strange things in the house opposite hers and gets too involved, bringing rotting meat to the neighbour’s door. Disconcertingly, on encountering the physical object of her gaze she feels the house itself recoil from her fingers. The door is violently hidden under a sudden “cascade of something,” then implodes at her touch, its bell ringer falling to the ground when, subject to her “angry push,” the door “caved inwards, admitting a ghastly smell of putrid meat.”[21] The smell is what she’s brought, stinking and decomposed: “flesh meat.” She has brought it for the house’s inhabitants, Ethel and Lazarus, who live a strange life. There are the rabbits, for a start, and then there is Ethel’s dead white skin, speckled with what look like stars.

First the rabbits. So many rabbits. A hundred rabbits, all with unblinking large pink eyes. What is their role in this story, these strange interlopers? Animals remind us of the strangeness of flesh before the fact of death when they exist in such close proximity to the human body — when, as in Carrington’s paintings, the human and the animal are bands along the spectrum of living shapes that blend or shift before your eyes. Comparing the similar situations of human beings and animals, Carrington argues that “We both live the best we can and then we die, and we don’t know anything about what happens after death, maybe nothing. […] We are in the same situation as animals.”[22] Perhaps the more pressing question is this: why do they eat rotting meat? Rabbits are herbivores, but these ones emerging from the dark corners of this almost-abandoned, disappearing house have changed without explanation. We know only the sudden clutch of fear and the desire “to get out and away from these terrible silver people and the white carnivorous rabbits.”[23] What happens when you see something that challenges your instruments of vision? You run. What if that sight is a woman turning to stars and a horde of animals setting to an unnatural feast? The order of things differs from what it was thought to be; her gift of dead animal flesh leads her to the task of making new metaphysical concepts that might explain what was previously hidden from her.

Against the beastly play of collapsing logical syllogisms and frail-to-breaking metaphysics, Carrington’s figures dance, sometimes with great visceral joy in matters of the flesh but, more often, with weird and unsettling pain or sometimes, increasingly, with a fragile beauty. Let us return to hands — a magician or sleight-of-hand artist knows that the gestures traced by a hand lead the eye to belief. That’s how they trick you. Look again at these hands, delicate and celestial, and see behind them how Ethel’s green silk dress pales against her “dead white” skin that “glittered as if speckled with thousands of minute stars.” Is there a universe within her? A “whole world,” as they say? If you don’t run when seeing such a sight, you might remain to face the mystery. “Do you not want to stay and become like us?” the woman asks. “In seven years your skin will be like stars, in seven little years you will have the holy disease of the Bible, leprosy!”[24] Biblical references and the seven years of famed magical property: an esoteric language is being called to account for the fullness of human life, having been dismissed by others out of hand.

Leonora Carrington, detail from Samain (c. 1951). Oil on canvas. Fig. 11.

Leonora Carrington, detail from Samain (c. 1951). Oil on canvas. Fig. 11.

There are other hands in Carrington’s universe. See, for instance, Samain (c.1951) [Fig. 11]. Look at the delicately tapered white hands of the feminine figure in the bottom right of the painting. They trace an absent egg, perhaps the one seemingly dropped to the figure’s lower left… hand, where a foot might be. Incidentally, for a connection between eyes and eggs, look no further than Georges Bataille’s Story of An Eye (1928), where Simone muses on the similarity between the two: egg reminds her of a calf’s eye, she says, “because the white of the egg was the white of the eye, and the yolk the eyeball.” Only shortly after, Simone speaks “about broken eggs, and then broken eyes.”[25] The parallel seems exact. In Carrington’s Samain, having seemingly dropped the egg, the figure’s hands are still holding something immaterial, still making the gesture. Fingers are how hands hold objects, make gestures, and interact with the world in general — they are the tactile method through which we shape the meaning of what we say. This is how “White Rabbits” ends, with the vision of Ethel’s hand above a balcony, “and as she waved it, her fingers fell off and dropped to the ground like shooting stars.” What do you see? A declension of stars? A text somehow celestial? The flesh leprous and translucent? What kind of sight is offered? An otherworldly image where, catalyzed by a gift of rotting meat, the hidden things of the world are quietly separating into a metaphysical opposition of bodies heavenly and beastly.

Leonora Carrington’s “White Rabbits” is an entry in a Surrealist ledger of works that inscribe visions of a fractured world within a singular point of view engaged in clear metaphysical labour. The story returns its audience to a conception of literary reading itself wherein symbols and signs mean exactly more and less than they appear: where the ocular vision of a reader is split between the meaning of a word and the graphical shape of ink on the page, in other words. As Peter Mendelsund argues, both the “notion that readers are ‘see-ers’” and the conventions used to describe reading are derived from metaphysical traditions of “visitation, annunciation, dream vision, prophecy, and other manifestations of religious or mystical epiphany.”[26] Carrington’s stories, like her paintings brewed on an alchemical crucible, suggest that a divided vision might arrive at new ways of seeing things: not as they are, but as they might mean. Symbols are made to betray the mystic operation of their signification.

It is thus that the distended and broken parts of the human body fall to the ground as shooting stars surrounded by hordes of brilliantly uncanny white rabbits — white rabbits that, as we know, eat rotting flesh such as that of the woman whose delicate, disintegrating hands prove so alluring to the narrator’s eye. If the image of an eye severed is surrealism’s gift to our aesthetic consciousness, then Carrington’s image of a body turned to stars falling among red-mouthed rabbits must also be accorded its place in a surreal sequence of remarkable images.

One more thing. After an eye reassembles its vision, it confronts a harsh truth of the world — transitory beauty will be eaten and consumed by beasts that fit no rational order. Like the narrator of “White Rabbits,” we will run from both beasts and beauty. In the end, Carrington’s fateful image raises another question: what if it isn’t just the eye that is cut? What if one’s fingers themselves are severed?

Every time I see the eye cut open — its vitreous humours spurting — I flinch. What should I expect? The sight is the painful afterimage of a wound: a wounded vision of the real. An intensity of feeling occupies the place of meaning or message. When I read about those falling fingers, it’s beautiful, but also oh-so-achingly weird.

_____

[1] Leonora Carrington, “White Rabbits,” 1941/1942, in The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, eds. Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, New York: Tor, 2011: 277.

[2] Carrington, “White Rabbits”: 277.

[3] This gendered twist is common: Luce Irigaray, for example, remarks that “‘femininity is a role, an image, a value, imposed upon women by male systems of representation. In this masquerade of femininity, the woman loses herself, and loses herself by playing on her femininity,” The Sex Which is Not One, trans. Catherine Porter, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985: 84.

[4] See a full discussion of this image in Rudolf E. Kuenzli’s “Surrealism and Misogyny,” Surrealism and Women, eds. Mary Ann Caws, Rudolf E. Kuenzli, and Gwen Raaberg, Cambridge: MIT, 1991: 17 – 18.

[5] Alyce Mahon, “She Who Revealed: The Celtic Goddess in the Art of Leonora Carrington,” in Leonora Carrington: The Celtic Surrealist, ed. Seán Kissane, Dublin: Irish Museum of Modern Art, 2013: 132 – 33.

[6] In a garrulous story, Alejandro Jodorosky describes the only time Carrington and Luis Buñuel met. While I take the liberty to quote the story, I retain reservations as to its authenticity: “She had a mythic reputation among Mexican painters; she was an incarnation of the most extreme surrealism. During a party, Luis Buñuel, seduced by Carrington’s beauty and emboldened by the notion that she had transcended all bourgeois morality, proposed (with his characteristic bluntness) that she become his mistress. Without even waiting for her answer, he gave her the key to the secret studio that he used as a love nest and told her to meet him at three o’clock the next afternoon. Early the next morning, Leonora went to visit the place alone. She found it tasteless: It looked exactly like a motel room. Taking advantage of the fact that she was in her menstrual period, she covered her hands with blood and used them to make bloody handprints all over the walls in order to provide a bit of decoration for that anonymous, impersonal room. Buñuel never spoke to her again,” Alejandro Jodorowsky, The Spiritual Journey of Alejandro Jodorowsky: The Creator of El Topo [Mu: Le maître et les magiciennes], 2005, trans. Joseph Rowe. Rochester: Inner Traditions, 2008: 25 – 26. The relationship between the Chilean filmmaker and Carrington (he staged her play Penelope in 1957, for instance) is described with such verve and invention that all readers of the weird are directed to Jodorosky’s work for more.

[7] N. McCrae, “‘A Violent Thunderstorm’: Cardiazol Treatment in British Mental Hospitals,” Historical Psychiatry 17 (2006): 67 – 90. Here is Carrington’s description of what Cardiazol induces, and what she called “the Great Epileptic Ailment”: I learned later that my condition had lasted for ten minutes; I was convulsed, pitiably hideous, I grimaced and my grimaces were repeated all over my body.” In “Down Below,” The House of Fear, New York: E.P. Dutton, 1988: 192.

[8] Susan L. Aberth, Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy, and Art, Aldershot: Lund Humphries, 2004: 46.

[9] Those interested are directed to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s page on “Metaphysics”: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2015/entries/metaphysics/.

[10] Leonora Carrington, Interview with Hans-Ulrich Obrist, “An Approach to a Reality That We Do Not Yet Understand,” in Leonora Carrington: The Celtic Surrealist, ed. Seán Kissane, Dublin: Irish Museum of Modern Art, 2013: 165.

[11] Quoted in Aberth, 20.

[12] This citation from Apuleius is quoted in the foreword of Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today (1954), a text which Carrington appreciatively read. See also Teresa Arcq, “A World Made of Magic,” trans. Jonathan Brennan, in Leonora Carrington: The Celtic Surrealist, ed. Seán Kissane, Dublin: Irish Museum of Modern Art, 2013: 32.

[13] Arcq, 19.

[14] For more in whimsical but very accurate analysis, see Maria Bustillos, “Lot 51: Borges, Xul Solar, and the Occult,” Paris Review 18 June (2015): http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2015/06/18/lot-51/.

[15] Wilson Harris, The Womb of Space, Westport, Conn: Greenwood, 1983: 69 – 70; see also Steven Slemon, “Magical Realism as Postcolonial Discourse,” in Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community, eds. Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy B. Faris, Durham: Duke University Press, 1995.

[16] Bronislaw Malinowski, Coral Gardens and Their Magic Vol. 2, London: Unwin Brothers, 1935.

[17] Edward James, “Leonora Carrington,” in Leonora Carrington: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculptures 1940 – 1990, ed. Andrea Schlieker, London: Serpentine Gallery, 38. For Carrington, the question of alchemy opens to political structures. As she described the Irish Sidhe, in words told to her by her grandmother with clear parallels to Ireland under English rule, there are “descendants of that ancient race that magically started to live underground when their land was taken by invaders with different political and religious ideas. They preferred to retire underground where they are dedicated to magic and alchemy, knowing how to change gold,” from an interview with Mexican journalist Manuel Avila Camacho López in “Max Ernst me enseño nueva forma de vivir,’ Excélsior, 10 February 1974, and quoted in Aberth: 12. Aberth also points out that, for Carrington, alchemy was connected to Herbert Read’s Surrealism (1937) and the artistic education she received while 19 at Ozenfant Academy. Cf. Aberth 22 – 23. It must be regarded as a principle irony of the artist’s life that her artistic investment in a transformative and theoretical prosecution of alchemy parallels the occupation of her estranged and even hostile father, Harold Wilde Carrington, a principle shareholder of Imperial Chemicals Industries (ICI). The line between alchemy and chemistry, aesthetics and commerce, runs like a finely sharpened knife within the Carrington family.

[18] Carlos Fuentes, “Leonora Carrington, or Ironical Sorcery,” in Leonora Carrington: Exposición de óleos, gouaches, dibujos y tapices, Mexcio City: Instituto Anglo-Mexicano de Cultura, 1965.

[19] For connections between Carrington and Swift, see Kissane 61 – 69.

[20] Carrington, “White Rabbits”: 227.

[21] Carrington, “White Rabbits”: 278.

[22] Leonora Carrington and Hans-Ulrich Obrist, “An Approach to a Reality that We Do Not Yet Understand [Interview],” Leonora Carrington: The Celtic Surrealist, ed. Seán Kissane, Dublin: Irish Museum of Modern Art, 2013: 160.

[23] Carrington, “White Rabbits”: 279.

[24] Carrington, “White Rabbits”: 279.

[25] Georges Bataille, L’histoire de l’oeil [Story of the Eye], trans. Joachim Neugroschel, San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1987: 38 – 39.

[26] Peter Mendelsund, What We See When We Read, New York: Vintage, 2014: 350.